When force is applied to a structural member, that member deforms and stores potential energy, just like a spring. The strain energy (i.e. the amount of potential energy stored due to the deformation) is equal to the work expended in deforming the member. The total strain energy corresponds to the area under the load deflection curve, and has units of in-lbf in US Customary units and N-m in SI units. The elastic strain energy can be recovered, so if the deformation remains within the elastic limit, then all of the strain energy can be recovered.

Strain energy is calculated as:

Note that there are two equations for strain energy within the elastic limit. The first equation is based on the area under the load deflection curve. The second equation is based on the equation for the potential energy stored in a spring. Both equations give the same result, they are just derived somewhat differently.

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